Uzbeks, Taliban battle in South Waziristan after an al Qaeda leader was murdered; fight exposes the real issues with the Waziristan Accord
A rare case of internecine fighting between the Taliban and ‘foreign fighters’ has broken out in South Waziristan. On March 6, it was reported that “Uzbeks of Tahir Yuldashev’s Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and some local supporters ” attacked a pro-government tribal leader in a bazaar in South Waziristan. Seventeen Uzbeks were said to have been killed in the fight. This initial skirmish has morphed into a full scale battle between the Taliban and the Uzbeks, backed by some local Taliban supporters. Over the past 2 days, 58 have been reported killed during fighting, including 42 Uzbek fighters. Another 27 Uzbeks have been captured. The latest report indicates 78 Uzbeks and 28 ‘locals’ have been killed in the fighting.
Dawn provides a comprehensive look at the fighting and the players involved. According to Dawn, the fighting began after “the killing of an Al Qaeda-linked Arab identified as Saiful Adil last week.” Adil’s body was “found abandoned in the outskirts of Wana.” The Uzbeks have been blamed for the murder by the Taliban run by Maulavi Nazir (aka Mullah Nazir.)
Nazir is considered one of the most powerful Taliban commanders in South Waziristan. He united 14 independent Taliban groups under his command. According to Dawn, “Maulavi Nazir had strained relations with Uzbek militants due to their alleged involvement in local crimes, decided to take them on, banking largely on popular support for his action.” Nazir is likely being backed by Taliban commander Haji Khanan, who opposes the presence of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Tahir Yuldashev’s Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is believed to have up to 1,000 fighters in the region. He is likely being backed by Noor Islam, a Taliban commander who is an active supporter of the Uzbek, Tajik and Arab fighters. Maulavi Abbas, another Taliban commander, is also supporting the Uzbeks. Yuldashev himself has gone missing since the beginning of the month. “A security official said Mr Yuldashev had gone into hiding and had not been seen since the first flare between local tribespeople and Uzbek militants early this month that had left at least 17 Uzbeks dead,” notes Dawn.
Al Qaeda has a vested interest in deescalating the fighting as this works against their plans of consolidating power in the tribal regions. Earlier today, Dawn reported “the issue caused extreme tension between the two groups and there had been rumours that an important personality from Afghanistan was due in the agency to pacify the two groups.”
“The sources said Siraj Haqqani, the son of a veteran Afghan mujahid and Taliban leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and his aide, Bakhta Jan, had reached Wana to intervene and persuade the combatants to stop fighting and settle the issue through dialogue,” Dawn reported later. Jalaluddin Haqqani is the military commander of the Afghan Taliban.
Predictably, the Pakistani government is not getting involved. The Pakistani government is more than content with portraying this fight as a battle between pro government forces and the ‘miscreants,’ as the government calls al Qaeda. Since the signing of the Waziristan Accord, the Pakistani military is in no position to get involved even if it wished, as it withdrew troops from the region and promised not to enter the tribal agency. The Pakistani government views this as a win-win situation, a positive step in the development of the Waziristan Accord as locals are fighting foreigners.
But this ignores the very reasons for the fighting – which is the presence of both foreigners and Pakistani and Afghan Taliban in the tribal regions. The Pakistani Taliban led by Maulavi Nazir are angry at Uzbeks for killing an Arab al Qaeda member. The Uzbeks are being backed by local Pakistani Taliban. Siraj Haqqani, the son of the military commander of the Afghan Taliban, and a Taliban leader himself, is coming from Afghanistan to mediate the dispute. The Pakistani military is powerless to act.
Rather than demonstrate the value of the Waziristan Accord, it shows how bankrupt the entire deal is, and just how ingrained the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other terrorist groups really are in the region.